Students react to Oxford’s Tier 2 as MPs back greater restrictions

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The city of Oxford will move into Tier 2 lockdown restrictions this Saturday, the Council has announced. Different households will no longer be able to meet indoors in any setting, public or private. Overnight stays will only be allowed from those in your own household or support bubble, but both Universities – like schools, colleges and places of worship – will remain open.

Oxford University has said in an official statement this afternoon that “in line with Government guidance, the University will continue to remain open and operating, with no current changes planned to teaching.”

“In line with Government guidance for areas in high-alert, students may not move backwards and forward between their permanent home and term-time address during term time. College households must be strictly adhered to, and no visitors to college households will be allowed.

“There may be some other changes to colleges’ COVID-secure policies and operations, and further information will be provided in the near future.”

Requests to move the entire county, and not just the city, into Tier 2 had the full backing of the leaders of all six local authorities and the chief executives of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, and Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group.

What do students think?

The Oxford Student has reached out to students at Oxford University to ask them how they feel about the city being placed under Tier 2 restrictions. One second-year student has described their reaction to the news, saying that “if any of my tutors think that the work they will get from me after the next two days will be intelligible, let alone contain a single intelligent thought, then they are sadly mistaken. If your initial response to the move to Tier 2 wasn’t to cry (valid), I bet that you picked up your phone, opened messages and sent ‘Pub?’ to at least three people.”

St Anne’s College emailed students following the announcement, urging them to “not act irresponsibly in hours before midnight [today]”. However, one second-year student told us that the sense of “impending doom” that restrictions, and the possibility of future restrictions, has created is a feeling that “we should get all of our socialising done now before it’s too late.”

Anna Ashkinazi, a first-year student at Queen’s College, argues that the new restrictions will target the wrong behaviours.

“Although a continuous increase in cases has made further measures inevitable, the move does little to address the main driving factors behind the spread of COVID-19 in Oxford — an excess of government-sanctioned six-person gatherings is unlikely to be one of them. Tighter restrictions on household mixing will be more successful at deterring those who were already broadly compliant with previous regulations than those flouting them; difficulty in enforcing the measures due to obvious privacy concerns means that the former will bear most of the mental toll while the latter will still find a way.”

Anna also disagrees with the way in which freshers have been blamed for a spike in cases.

“I think there might have been some merit to the idea earlier in term — a lot of people were understandably still clinging onto the idea of having a ‘normal’ freshers’ week and taking the initiative for organising things into their own hands.

“By now, however, everything has mostly calmed down. Freshers are actually more likely to be sticking to more or less the same groups and coming into close contact with fewer people since they got to know far fewer people than the older years, so it no longer makes sense to pin the blame entirely on us.”

One Finalist commented that the restrictions would not change much of their day-to-day life: “Most of my socialising occur outdoors anyway, in pubs or cafes, the only difference now is that if I want to meet friends from multiple households, we just need to plan further ahead and book outdoors seating. It’s probably time to get a warmer coat, and for someone to put together a list of Oxford’s best pub gardens.”

They continued: “The sensible students were already trying to meet outside before this, and most of the case transmissions occurred among people of the same College, either due to mixing between households inside or larger scale rulebreaking and that’s not going to go away with Tier 2.”

Similarly, a student at Merton wondered if the restrictions would actually be followed: “at home in London, all my friends seem to be having unexpected ‘business dinners’ until very late at night nowadays!”

For now, students have been asked not to travel between Oxford and their home residences during term time, and it is unclear at this stage whether students will be advised to stay for the Christmas vacation. Under current laws, students who normally reside in Wales will be prevented from returning home.

Why Tier 2?

Oxford City Council states that Oxford is moving into Tier 2 “as a preventative measure in order to stem the transmission rate and protect our most vulnerable residents.”

“Over the past three weeks, we have not only seen a continued rise in cases in the City, but increasing evidence of the spread of the virus beyond people in their teens and twenties to older and potentially more vulnerable age groups.

It is evident that the virus is no longer confined to younger people but is now affecting a much wider age range. Hospital admissions have begun to increase as a result.

We know that transmission of the virus takes place largely as a result of inter-household mixing. By moving Oxford city into Tier 2 (High Alert), which prevents households from mixing in indoor settings, we are taking preventative measures to stop the situation from escalating further and to protect our most vulnerable residents. This is particularly important with events such as Halloween, Bonfire Night and Diwali approaching when many households will be planning to come together to socialise.

Taking action taken now will reduce the risk of wider cross-community transmission. We all have a responsibility for ourselves, to protect each other and support our communities.”

The latest official figures show the infection rate is 134.5 per 100,000, but these do not reflect the full extent of university positive cases. Once all cases in the city are accounted for the figure is considerably higher. Current Oxford University figures for the University’s own testing service for the week 17-23 October confirmed 208 positive cases. Oxford Brookes has announced it had nearly 60 new cases of Covid-19 last week, but no ‘locked down’ halls of residence.

Local MPs thoughts

The City of Oxford’s two MPs, Layla Moran and Annelise Dodds stated their support for the decision to move to Tier 2.

Moran has called the decision to put Oxford city alone into Tier 2 lockdown ‘shocking’, going on to say that “when the spread and case numbers outside the city are also of grave concern, and when so many people commute into our city. Those responsible for not protecting communities in the rest of Oxfordshire need to be held accountable for their actions to block a measure intended to save lives locally.”

Oxfordshire’s four Conservative MPs – John Howell, Victoria Prentis, Robert Courts, and David Johnston – have said:

“As we made clear last week, public health is the priority and we hope this will stop the spread of the virus. We do not want to see the rest of Oxfordshire put into Tier 2, as council leaders have been requesting if it can be avoided and given the impact this would have on individuals, families and businesses.

We therefore strongly urge everyone today to redouble their efforts to follow the guidance of hands, face, space to help stop the spread of the virus and help prevent the rest of the county needing to be placed into Tier 2.”

The decision has also been backed by Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP), with CEO Nigel Tipple stating:

“We ask that businesses follow the new guidelines and adhere to any actions required where applicable to their industry.

We also encourage them to be as proactive as possible to seek any business support that is needed, whether via existing government schemes or indeed the support and advice we are able to offer as the county’s Local Enterprise Partnership.

Coronavirus has created an unprecedented situation and will cause concern and disruption to businesses of all sizes for the foreseeable future and we will continue to work with Government to ensure that our business community can be supported and remain resilient and productive during this challenging period.”

Artwork by Tian Chen, The Oxford Student